When stadium operators plan network coverage for their increasingly modern edifices, there is often one intentional dead zone: the field itself. The players, after all, aren’t texting during the game—unless they want to get fined, anyway—but that all changes when the venues are used for concerts. Field seats are often the priciest tickets in the building.
That’s also true of Super Bowl halftime shows and why, for the fifth time, the NFL’s championship was held with MatSing lens antennas boosting mobile capacity from end zone to end zone, even if the ongoing coronavirus pandemic scuttled what’s usually a large fan mob on the field for The Weeknd’s halftime show. The portable lenses were also used in D.C. for the inauguration.
MatSing uses a patent-protected artificial dielectric material that enables multi-directionality of the signal—up to 48 sectors that otherwise would require 48 traditional antennas to cover. Materials scientist Serguei Matytsine developed the polymer that formed the basis of the company, following the conjecture of a scientist involved in a government space satellite project.
That scientist said, as relayed by Leo Matytsine, the younger son of Sergui and an EVP at MatSing, “Instead of using something like a dish, if you need to send many narrow signals in many directions, we have something in nature that does something very similar, which is our eye. It’s a lens. It focuses it through refraction, right? It takes light from one side and focuses it on the back of that. You build antennas, same principle. Just instead of focusing light, you focus RF [radio frequency].”
This biomimicry is at the core of MatSing’s growing portfolio of distributed antenna installations, which includes permanent coverage of sports venues such as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Amalie Arena, the Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The crowding of 20,000 fans in an arena or upwards of 100,000 in a stadium creates network congestion that fans, media and teams have all endured.
Amalie Arena deploys 52 MatSing antennas hidden in the rafters. When the system was first installed, not every mobile carrier had signed on to use the boosters. During a test on opening night of the 2019-2020 season, AT&T connected to MatSing while Verizon did not. A third-party report compiled by MobileNet Services determined that phones using AT&T in the venue had average download speeds about seven times faster (36 megabytes per second, compared to 5.6 for Verizon) and upload speeds nearly nine times faster (14.23 versus 1.58).
Amalie Arena in Tampa.
“The MatSings are really able to control where your RF is being directed, and that’s really important for covering seats,” says Andrew McIntyre, SVP of technology and innovation at Vinik Sports Group, the parent company of the Lightning and the lessee of Amalie Arena. All four major carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile—are now signed on, although Amalie Arena’s first big test won’t be until the pandemic lessens enough for a full capacity crowd.
In all, MatSing has about three dozen sports clients in the U.S. The natural inclination of facility operators, Leo Matytsine says, is to pack in more antennas. But the signals of traditional antennas can impede each other. When consulting at one college football stadium, his first piece of advice was actually to power a few of the antennas down—and it increased speeds. The MatSing lens antennas don’t have that issue.
“When it’s created from the lens, these many sectors, you have a lot less—or almost none—interference from sector to sector, because it’s being created from our antenna,” Leo Matytsine says. “We know this sector is here, this sector is here. It’s not spilling over.”
Sports venues have poured a lot of money into infrastructure upgrades in recent years, often bolstering their wifi networks in the process. Industry experts believe those will continue to be important, particularly for facility operations like point of sale transactions, while fans will also reap the rewards of advances in cell network transmission. “I’m a big believer in, it’s not one, it’s both,” McIntyre says. “When it comes to capacity and the needs—not just of operating the facility itself, or the venue, as well as the fans’ needs—the demands are just continuing to increase at such a fast rate.”
MatSing is a family company that has not taken on outside investment. Leo’s older brother, Michael, is also an EVP overseeing operations. The brothers grew up in Moscow as fans of American sports—Leo remembers a childhood Chicago Bulls hat from the 1990s—before the Matytsines relocated to Singapore in 2000, starting the company in the garage. (The name MatSing is an amalgamation of materials, Singapore and the family name.) MatSing’s CEO as of last year is Bo Larsson, a former general manager at Sony Ericsson and Sony Corporation of America, who had spent five years on MatSing’s board of directors.
Their breakthrough moment came in 2014 when MatSing and AT&T provided enhanced cell coverage to the Coachella music festival. A more recent partner is Facebook Connectivity, whose SuperCell engineering initiative is designed to provide low-cost coverage in rural areas and is equipped with a MatSing lens. These advances followed years of tepid global interest.
“Everybody was very interested in the idea, but nobody took the risk, so I want to give credit to America because, in the U.S., they like innovation and they like to take risk,” Michael Matytsine says. Many more teams are doing so now, using the pandemic’s limitations on attendance as an opportunity to take on capital projects in their buildings. “While the season is going on, and there’s fans the other day, it’s very tough to upgrade any arenas,” Michael adds. “So actually, last year has been very good because a lot of the stadiums wanted to do an upgrade. And this was the window of opportunity to do so.”
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